“The only way they’re gonna sleep is if you let them cry-it-out.” If you are a parent struggling with sleep, chances are you’ve gotten this advice from your own parents, friends, books, or random blog posts on the Internet (oh hey there!). But is that advice actually good advice?
First, let’s look at what the science says. Since the words “cry-it-out” were first echoed, there has been fear that leaving your baby to cry can somehow harm their attachment to you. Luckily, in recent years, study after study has shown that is far from the truth. Sleep training methods that involve prolonged crying do not damage your attachment with your baby or harm them emotionally. And further studies on baby sleep have shown that babies who sleep well for both naps & nighttime sleep have been shown to be more secure, have better emotional regulation, and are just all-around happier little beings. But let’s not forget the parents, either! Parents who have adequate, uninterrupted sleep have fewer instances of postpartum depression and report feeling more bonded with their baby in return.
Okay, so we know sleep is good for baby’s development and parental mental health. And we know cry-it out does not harm attachment. But that still doesn’t answer the question of if cry-it-out is a necessary aspect of sleep training.
We asked our baby & toddler sleep expert Natalie Willes for her thoughts on this. She told us yes… but with some big caveats.
“To some degree,” Natalie says, “All sleep training methods are cry-it-out. When you decide to sleep train, you’re deciding to give your baby the time and space they need to learn the new skill of independent sleep. And like learning any new skill, there are sure to be frustrations, and your baby is going to express their frustration by crying. They are crying out their frustrations at the learning process. In order for your baby to be successful, we don’t want to set any arbitrary limits on how long they’re allowed to express their frustration at having to learn to fall asleep without the help they’re used to.”
Where she cautioned parents was mistaking “cry-it-out” for “full extinction,” saying, “More often when people talk about using a ‘cry-it-out’ method for sleep training, they are talking about full extinction, where you leave your baby in their crib, shut the door, and don’t return for 12 hours no matter what. And that’s not an effective or safe method for sleep training. Crying is par for the course, to some degree, but a good sleep plan can help you keep some structure to your check-ins, maintain a loving bond, and minimize the crying significantly.”
Wondering how you can help your baby sleep better, but still minimize the tears as much as possible? Parents have called our Sleep 101 online class “the most painless sleep training process out there.” Plus you’ll get troubleshooting tips for whatever sleep problems may arise.